Poetry By The Book – My PhD Blog

Thursday 11th February 2016 – Blog blindness

At the Writers’ Toolkit last November in Birmingham, William Gallagher, a consummate blogger, ran a session on how not to blog. He began by saying that a blog that just sits there, that you only update twice a year – if that – is worse than no blog at all. Well, here is my example! I thought about scrapping the blog, hiding my sins, so to speak, but then I thought no, I should keep it here as a message both to myself and others, of the challenges of blogging. The fact that I have even got round to this public self-chastisement is some sort of achievement, I suppose, but rather a minor one.

However, the last year itself, 2015, though blogless, has in fact been a very busy one for my PhD. Perhaps that is why there has been no blogging… Sadly, I feel that should wait for another blog entry!

Tuesday 17th February 2015 – Offline

I’ve been largely working offline over the last month, which is interesting in itself. I’ve been writing quite a lot about anthologisation and why poets refuse prizes, both fascinating areas, as well as writing some new poems and reworking older ones. Allocating quite a bit of dedicated time to the PhD – rather than just read and write more generally – has proved effective and I feel like I’m making good progress. Of course, the nearer you get to the mountain, the larger it seems. Or some similar aphorism.

Monday 12th January 2015 – Where Has The New Year Gone?

Getting back into gear (cars, not clothes metaphor) after the festive season has been harder than I thought. I knew all the activities of the festive season would make it difficult to do much on the poetry, though the many (often excellent) articles looking back at the the literary year of 2014 meant I could pretend i was doing research. I have reworked my poem about eyebrows that Luke (my supervisor, just to reremind you) and I discussed last time, trying to make it more focused and less of a performance piece. I think it has some good qualities as a performance piece but the first draft definitley lacked rigour and the thought that goes into reworking. Does it make it less spontaneous, though? It’s all relative, as I had considerably edited my first draft – typed into my iphone notes in a cafe – already as I typed it up properly.

Tuesday 10th December 2014 – Literary Lunch (well, coffee)

So, not just a week but a month between posts! Met up with Michael Thomas yesterday and that’s prompted me to write. It was good to chat through similar issues, concerns, likes and enthusiasms in the mac (Midlands Arts Centre) cafe and there’s no doubt that support structure I talk about so readily when I’m teaching creative writing is a a real thing of genuine importance. Ridiculous I should have to say it, but you can take these things for granted.

Sunday 2nd November 2014 – Is It Really A Week?

Is it really a week since my last update? It’s been a bit of a frustrating week. I worked on a poem called War Torn, but I’m not sure, it’s difficult to judge with such strong material and yet such well-trodden ground. I’ve also been reading introductions to various recent anthologies and trying to get a handle on some of them, beyond ‘these are the poets and the poems we think are good’. A bit mean, perhaps, some of their points are well-made, but The Rattle Bag comes to mind. But then again, why should a general contemporary poetry anthology do more than present what they think is the best poetry at the moment? I’m working my way in by considering the importance of anthologies generally and then hopefully I’ll be able to draw on some of the more specific arguments in some of the introductions.

Sunday 26th October 2014 – Sitting On The Wall

In my first blog I talked about going through some early poems, and now I’ve typed up two of them, Inheritance/Marigold Child and Sitting On The Wall Outside In A Break. I clearly go in for either quite short or longer, descriptive titles – something I might need to think about. The process has been salutary, as the first one now seems somewhat mawkish to me and the second more of a prose poem. Despite my warning-to-self not to re-edit early work, for the poems to work at all in the public domain, I felt I had to rework them – so I have!

Here’s the first one:

Inheritance / Marigold Child

Little marigold child,
All the lost futures
Of former generations
Smile in your eyes.

When you come into youth,
Find what you attain to:
Will you proudly think
That the past has made you?

Your impossible limbs,
The way your mind flies,
All those gone souls –
Something to realise.

The 1st verse is almost unchanged, the 2nd more so and the 3rd is almost completely different. Nothing new here, at any rate for me, the challenge I can sometimes have is sustaining the opening verse or lines. In this case, the original ending was about how the former generations ‘pluck out your eyes’, a bleakness that teenagers often have a penchant for. Older now, I wanted to make it more ambiguous and also more optimistic, really. The main theme of how we are formed by and bear a responsibility to those who have gone before is still central, though. I agonised (and still do somewhat) over ‘Will you proudly think’, rather than ‘Will you be proud to think’, but I prefer its slight awkwardness and the way it sticks out (proudly) in the line.


Thursday 23rd October 2014 – It’s A Library With Real Books In It

Finally picked up some books (8 poetry anthologies) from Birmingham University Library this morning. Bit of a saga, but they were very good at sorting it out. For some reason my student card hadn’t been activated on the library system. In fairness, I’d only picked it up on the Tuesday, but clearly the electronic system isn’t quite as seamless as I’d expected.

Anyway, having been unable to use my card on the Tuesday, I’d decided to go late on Wednesday and get the books. The exploration of the stacks reminded me that using a physical library can be an intimidating experience. I love libraries and have ambled round many a one in my time, but they can be quite labyrinthine and the main University of Birmingham Library is no exception. Having eventually found the contemporary poetry anthologies in the depths of the building, I then tried to borrow them, but the card still did not work. It was 10pm by now and great that the library is open so late (till midnight term time) but there was no way of getting into the system to let me borrow the books. They were, however, kept to one side.

So, here we are on the Thursday, picking up the actual books, the day staff having put me manually on to the system. Hurrah. I walk out happily with a stack of borrowed book under my arm. A neat comment on the work I’m doing. Having the physical anthology in my hand is a very different experience from looking at the contents online (not that you can exactly do that) or searching down the individual poets through their online content. Even more than this, though, I felt something of a contrast between the anthologies I personally own – and I have quite a few – and the ones I borrowed, presumably selected in some way over the years and held by previous students to me; in other words, a weight of history behind them more tangible (or is it?) than the number of hits a website has had.


Tuesday 21st October 2014 – 1st Meeting

Very good first meeting with Luke Kennard, my supervisor, where we covered a range of material including the shape of the year, the shape of the 3 years, my proto-essay, my poems, areas to focus on, actions to take… Fab. It was particularly interesting to see how Luke viewed the 2 new poems as about social encounters and that this might be a good area to group poems around. The Sara Hilden poem in some ways very different, but coming from  a similar preoccupation, I think. This was something of a new insight for me and definitely gives me a focus. In terms of the research element, I’m going to write about anthologisation, which we talked about in the context of my discussion of ‘the poet as platform’ and the contrast between print media and both electronic and performance media.

Friday 17th October 2014 – There’s Nothing Like A Deadline

There’s nothing like a deadline to get you working. I’m meeting with Luke Kennard, my PhD supervisor, on Tue (21st) and want to send him something to discuss today (based on what he’s requested). So, I have been writing in response to two books I’ve been reading, one on the process and one on the content, as well as typing up some poems from my notebook and looking back at some others.

How-to-Blog-a-Book-Cover-WEB1-220x300The book on process is How To Blog A Book by Nina Amir. This is an excellent book, created through a website blog and therefore very pertinent to my exploration of online in relation to printed writing. True, it’s not directly about poetry, in fact it’s more focused on non-fiction, but it does go to the heart of the symbiosis between the two media and is a great manual for actually getting stuff out there. And her website puts mine to shame.

A Gallery To Play To CoverThe other book is A Gallery To Play To: The Story Of The Mersey Poets by Phil Bowen, which is a thoughtful and thought-provoking overview of the Mersey poets phenomenon, how it was fuelled by performance and publication (in particular publication as No 10 in the Penguin Modern Poets series) and the various reactions of the poetry world to their work, both positive and negative – the discussion of their inclusion in Philip Larkin’s edition of The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse is particularly interesting.

So, I’ve now written just over 1,000 words on the 2 books and am about to send that off to Luke, together with 3 poems: A Proximity, The crane is not eyeing the water over the shallow wetlands and To You, Sara Hildén. The first two from my current notebook, written over the last few weeks, and the last an old poem I have re-visited, very different in style. Looking forward to the session.


Tuesday 14th October 2014 – A Clearing Of The Attic

Having just started my PhD in Creative Writing (at Birmingham University) looking at the impact of digital media on the traditional poetry book, I thought it right and proper to begin a blog on my process. And indeed progress. At the core of my study is the creation of a traditionally published poetry book of my own, together with digital content arising from it.

So, I have been looking over my poems with a thought to how they might best be selected and organised for a collection. I have been considering themes or a timeline – from birth to death, no less – not of composition (I hope to survive the publication!), but of subject matter.

An enjoyable but also intense exercise. As it happens, a clearing of the attic has meant I am in any event going through manuscripts of my writings when about 17 – a terrifyingly long time ago it now seems. As well as selecting, I am considering how far to ‘edit’ some drafts (not all the writing made it to poems). I’m aware several poets have tinkered with early work and regretted it later.

Alongside this, I’ve been looking at writings that relate to the idea of the poetry collection and spending several happy days in the Library of Birmingham. It feels like I have started.


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